This is the first article in a series looking at the draft history of the Kansas City Royals. Each will examine a five-year period’s steals, busts and oversights.
Hindsight is 20/20, as the old cliché goes. With our beloved Kansas City Royals celebrating their 50th season next year, this is as appropriate a time as any to see how the franchise assembled its rosters and eventually built championship teams. Specifically, I wanted to focus on the annual amateur draft. I’m looking back at Royals draft history — five years at a time — examining the steals, busts and oversights of the MLB draft.
The 1968 MLB draft had a quirky setup. The four expansion teams set to begin play the next year — the Kansas City Royals, the San Diego Padres, the Montreal Expos and the Seattle Pilots (now Milwaukee Brewers) — weren’t allowed to pick until the end of the fourth round. Apparently, the powers that be believed the expansion draft was sufficient to assemble a baseball team from scratch. On the other hand, the Royals and others missed out on a gloriously top-heavy draft, loaded with future All-Stars and borderline Hall of Famers.
The first pick in Kansas City Royals draft history was as inauspicious as they come. Selected 84th overall, Kenneth O’Donnell was a middle infielder that scouts projected as a three-tool hitter. Ultimately, O’Donnell couldn’t figure out Double-A pitching and was out of baseball by 1973. The player chosen right after O’Donnell was an ornery Texan hurler named Burt Hooton. Hooton spurned the Mets for an outstanding career at the University of Texas. He was drafted again by the Cubs in June 1971, and his major league-ready arm threw a no-hitter against the Phillies less than a year later.
The highest Royals pick that year to make it to the show was Lance Clemons in the seventh round (No.156 overall). However, the steal of the draft waited until the 25th round. Some string-bean lefty from the Chicago suburbs named Paul Splittorff. Perhaps, you’ve heard of him.
The 1969 MLB draft allowed the expansion teams to participate in the first three rounds. Alas, the Pilots, Expos, Royals and Padres (in that order) had to draft after the previous year’s world champion Cardinals. Eighteen of the 24 first-round picks saw major league action at some point, which is not too shabby. John Simmons Jr., the Royals’ first-round pick that year, never signed. The player chosen after him — career Triple-A outfielder Randy Elliott — wouldn’t have been much of an upgrade.
What was remarkable about the Royals’ 1969 draft was that they put quantity over quality. The four new teams were allowed extra supplemental picks at the end of the draft. The Kansas City Royals accumulated 90 picks — the highest number for any team in a draft to that point. It allowed the Royals to pad their minor league rosters, but only five players made it to the majors. Al Cowens (84th round, 1,028th overall) was the only pick to make any noise up there. Howard Phillips, the Royals’ second-round pick, went 47th when future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven went 55th.
The January Rule 5 draft proved far more fruitful for the Royals than the June amateur draft, highlighted by Greg “Moon Man” Minton in the third round. The June draft was largely a garbage fire, with only one player out of 38 picks hitting the show: Tom “Crash” Poquette. Somebody named Bruce Griggs was chosen in the eighth round with Rich “Goose” Goosage still available. Even though Bruce Sutter opted to go to Old Dominion over pitching for the Senators, the Kansas City Royals settled for minor league catcher Marv Chamberlain in the 21st round.
More from Kings of Kauffman
- KC Royals Rumors: Is a monster move in the cards?
- KC Royals Free Agent Hunt: 3 Tampa Bay pitchers
- Grading the 2022 KC Royals: The $25 million man
- KC Royals Winter Meetings Tracker: Expectations met
- KC Royals Winter Meetings Tracker: Day 3 update
If the 1970 amateur draft was unspectacular as a whole, then ’71 was one for the ages. It didn’t quite start off that way, as none of the first 10 picks made much of an impact in the majors. The Royals’ first-round pick (fifth overall), pitcher Roy Branch, made two spot starts for the Mariners in 1979.
The Kansas City Royals chose George Brett in the second round. I don’t think there’s much to be said about the G.O.A.T. that hasn’t already been written. A lot of people don’t know Mike Schmidt was drafted right after Brett (29th and 30th overall, respectively) or that two of the greatest third basemen ever were selected as shortstops. KC chose one-time closer Mark Littell in the 12th round. Another pitcher whose career was shortened by injuries, Steve Busby, was selected in the secondary phase of the draft.
The first round of this draft featured five future All-Stars. The Kansas City Royals chose journeyman pitcher (and frequent trade bait) Jamie Quirk at 18th overall. Quirk was serviceable in three separate stints at Royals Stadium, though Chet Lemon went 22nd to the A’s. All-time Royal Dennis Leonard, one of the finest pitchers to never see an All-Star Game, went to KC in the second round, edging out future All-Star Bob Knepper. Pat “Tommy” Curran, chosen in the 17th round, did next to nothing in the low minors. Nevertheless, he went two picks ahead of another journeyman starter, Vern Ruhle.
Next time: an analysis of Royals draft history from 1973 to 1977.